Saturday, 6 October 2018

Celebrating Success....and Failure!

I really enjoyed this post from Madelaine Armstrong Willcocks. It explores gifted learners and how they experience success. One of the most frequent things I've struck in my interactions with gifted kids, is their uneasiness when their successes are highlighted and celebrated in front of their peers. This seems to me to be particularly common to high school aged girls but knowing the desire of boys to fit in with their peers and not be seen as different, I'm sure there are boys who feel exactly the same way.

I've been thinking a lot about how can we celebrate the accomplishments of gifted kids in a way that allows them to feel deservedly proud without worrying about the reactions of their peers. Because when it comes down to it, that's what this is about, right? Worrying about what others think is what stops our gifted kids from celebrating their successes as they deserve to, free of anxiety about what others are thinking. So how can we address this?

There are two things that keep popping into my head as I mull this over.

1. Not everyone is going to like you....and that's ok. Maybe this is what we should be teaching our kids. If we keep this in mind, then maybe they'll be less worried about the reactions of others.

Then again, sometimes it is people in their own friend group who seem to struggle with feeling joy for their successes and in that case, telling our gifted kids not to care about their friends' opinions is not going to help one bit.

So then what? Well, here's an idea.

2. Let's celebrate our gifted kids' failures! Let's share when things go wrong for them instead of just highlighting their successes.

Ok, there are lots of things to keep in mind here. First and foremost, this approach needs to be used for all our learners so we are not perpetuating the very behaviour we are actually trying to minimise.....isolating the gifted learner by making them seem different to their classmates. Furthermore, this needs to be done sensitively and with the permission of the learners. But talking to the cohort about the struggles the gifted learner is facing and what they intend to do next to pick themselves up can only be beneficial for everyone. Talking honestly about resilience and the power of mistakes is so compelling and can send a great message to everyone about growth mindset and the power of yet. If sensitively sharing "failures" and disappointments becomes the norm for all students in our classes, then the group as a whole is more likely to feel joy for one another, gifted or otherwise, when a class member works through something to experience success. Mistakes are a great leveller and community builder! And it helps our gifted kids be seen as human, people who face challenge and experience disappointment, just like everyone else.

Of course, we might have search harder for the gifted kids' mistakes or failures than we do for some other kids. That's ok! (Nobody else needs to know that part!)

This approach relies on one fundamental thing; that we as their teachers are providing a programme which enables everyone to work at their own level and experience challenge. If our gifted kids are NEVER making mistakes and experiencing failures and disappointments, then isn't it our job as their teacher to reflect on whether we are providing a programme which challenges them enough?

Just sayin'......


Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Giftedness and High Achievers

Day 3 of the GiftEDNZ Blogging Challenge prompts us to consider the difference between High Achievers and Gifted Kids. 

Today's article is The Truth About Gifted Versus High Achieving Students.  This article is a really interesting one. The writer, Chris Croll, makes some very compelling points and I agree with many of her thoughts. The one point we differ on is that Chris makes a very clear distinction between gifted students and high achieving students; her post implies that there is very little overlap between the two. I'm not so sure about this.

I have been mulling this over since reading the article and wonder whether this calls for a visual response. Since I am the only member of my whanāu to have no artistic ability whatsoever, I'm turning to my trusty friend, Canva. 

I have drawn three diagrams which might help me to think more clearly.  These diagrams are truly primitive but hopefully, you get the gist!

1. We know not all gifted kids are achieving highly but are ALL high achievers actually gifted? Are high achievers simply a smaller subset of gifted students?

2. Or is it possible that some high achievers are not gifted at all? Are they simply kids who have learned to "play the game" of school and have mastered it, meaning they are achieving well across the board? If that's the case, go them, I say! 

3. Or does the answer lie somewhere in the middle? Are there some high achievers who are gifted and some who are not?

(I apologise profusely for being unable to work out how to colour the overlapping piece an orangey shade! This is really bugging me but for the sake of getting this posted, I'm going to let it go!)

In recent years, my thinking has started to become more in line with the first diagram (all high achievers are gifted) whereas before it was probably most like the third (some high achievers are gifted but not all.) I'm not thinking of high achievers as those good, solid students who maintain good grades with a lot of effort but rather the students who consistently achieve at a very high level across the board. Isn't it possible that all these very high achieving students are gifted? 

I wonder if it really matters for the high achievers that we define them? I mean, if they are working and achieving at such a high level and we are challenging them and keeping them engaged, then yay! Happy times! 

However, the kids this really does matter for are the gifted kids who are not achieving, those who are disengaged, not feeling challenged or motivated and who are really left feeling miserable in our current system.  These are the ones we owe it to to get it right. 

This blogpost really was a stream of consciousness and as always, I could, of course, be convinced otherwise so feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. 

Ten Things We Should Never Say To Our Gifted Learners

Day 2 of the GiftEDNZ October Blogging Challenge featured a blogpost from Lisa Van Gemert entitled, "Top Ten Ways to Annoy a Gifted Child." I must admit, I initially found this post charmingly hilarious but I acknowledge that this response comes from the place of being an empowered adult with the confidence and life experiences to advocate for my own needs. It is not half as funny if you put yourself in the shoes of a young person without the resources and courage to fight for what they need to truly thrive in our schools.

Lisa's post is an important one and I imagine we'd be hard-pushed to find a single member of the gifted community who has not experienced at least a handful of the items on her list.

So I thought I'd add to the list, this time focusing on ten things that a gifted learner should never hear us teachers say. I wrote this list in consultation with some of the gifted young people I've had the privilege of working with. These learners are now in high school so they are particularly sensitive to any sort of feedback that singles them out from the rest of their class, as well as any comments that bog them down under the weight of their teachers' high expectations.

For the sake of ease, I've called this student Barbara which coincidentally is the name I use in my classroom when I need an example from a "hypothetical" student. I hope all Barbaras will forgive me; it just rolls off the tongue easily........

Without further ado, ten things we should never say to our gifted learners........

1. "Don't worry about that question now, Barbara! You'll cover that in next year's curriculum."

2. "Does anyone besides Barbara have an answer for my question?" (Said with a scathing tone after Barbara has offered answers to a number of questions.)

3. "Why are you struggling? You should know how to do this! You're smart."

4.  "Look at Barbara's work. Isn't it amazing? Barbara always does such amazing work......"  or anything which suggests favouritism or singles Barbara out from the rest of the class.

5.  "Don't stress about the test. You're so capable; you'll crush it! I just know you'll get top mark."

6.  Followed closely by, "I have to be honest, I thought you'd get a better mark than that, Barbara."

7.  Please don't EVER email me in my weekend asking for help with your homework."

8. "Barbara! You're reading AGAIN? I never see you without your nose in a book."

9. "I'm offering a chocolate bar to anyone who gets 100% on the test."

10. ""I believe all kids are gifted."

What would you add?

Monday, 1 October 2018

Five Practical Ways to Be a Champion for A Gifted Child- Teacher Version

I have long been a fan of Rita Pierson's TED talk Every Kid Needs a Champion With close to 9 million views, it is clear that her simple but compelling message resonates.

How does Pierson's wisdom apply to our gifted learners? Sadly, we're all familiar with the common scenario of gifted children being left to their own devices in contexts where the prevailing feeling is that they are doing "just fine" and are not "at risk." I'm not throwing any shade here......I know that we educators are frequently stretched thin, with far too much on our plates! It is not at all surprising that when teachers are swamped and forced to prioritise, the gifted kids who, on the surface, appear to be bright and making progress are often left to fend for themselves.

I know that I'm preaching to the choir here; I don't need to explain why not meeting the needs of gifted learners (and indeed any learner) is a tragedy and an issue of social justice.  We're all on the same page and want to be champions for our gifted learners. The question is not Why but How? How do we advocate for our gifted kids? How do we become their champions and support them as they strive to meet their potential?

Here's five practical ways educators can become champions for our gifted learners- needless to say, these ideas will work for any learners in your cohort.

1. Interview all the kids on your GATE register-

This is something that I had the privilege of doing with our GATE co-ordinator, Pauline Dann. We asked questions such as-

  • What are you curious about? 
  • How do you find the challenge level in your learning? 
  • What do you want your teachers to know about you? 

The process was insightful, revealing, inspiring and in some cases very spurred us into further action and made us reflect on whether we were meeting the needs of our gifted cohort.

2. Communicate frequently with the whanāu of your gifted kids.

Parenting gifted children can be incredibly difficult and even isolating at times. Consider surveying the families too. Support each other as you work to achieve great outcomes for your gifted kids.

3. Offer programmes that will challenge your gifted kids-

There is an abundance of programmes that help gifted kids make the most of their strengths and develop new ones, as well as providing opportunities for them to work with like-minds. Programmes include Tournament of Minds, Kidslit Quiz, Philosophy for Kids, Cantamaths, Brainbee and my personal favourite, Future Problem Solving, ........
Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 1.29.55 PM.png

Reflect carefully on your selection process. You might consider allowing children to self-nominate for some of these programmes....whatever you do, please don't select these kids based on some form of one-off test or worse, a school entrance exam!  Keep an open view of how giftedness presents itself. Many of our most gifted kids do not test well in formal testing situations but thrive in creative thinking programmes so please do give a lot of thought to how learners are selected. 

4. Ensure that your classroom programmes meet everyone's needs-

High ceiling- low floor tasks are brilliant for ensuring everyone can work at their own level. Offer open-ended tasks such as passion projects, genius hour etc but ensure that you provide adequate scaffolding and accountability checks for all kids.  There is sometimes an assumption that gifted kids will automatically know how to master open-ended inquiries and projects and be able to organise themselves with minimal teacher support. Don't fall into this trap. Check in frequently and provide mentoring and coaching to help all kids meet their potential.

5. Read, read, read! 

Learn all you can about how to meet the needs of gifted kids. Follow teachers on Twitter who have an interest in gifted kids. Join Justine Hughes' amazing Facebook group, a true treasure trove of resources and conversations that will help us be true champions for our gifted learners.

What ideas would you add to this list?

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Twelve Picture Books Every Kiwi Kid Should Know

10....ooops 11....scratch that....
TWELVE Picture Books Every Kiwi Kid Should Know

When I sat down to write this post of my favourite picture books, my goal was to limit my list to 10. But I just couldn't do it. So I settled on twelve because any more than that makes a very loooooong blogpost. But there are still many more I love dearly; maybe this blogpost will become part of a series! 

In no particular order......

The House That Jack Built by Gavin Bishop

Ok, so I said in no particular order but that doesn't apply to Gavin Bishop's The House That Jack Built. In my humble opinion, this book is hands down one of the smartest, most important New Zealand picture books ever written and should be in every classroom and family bookshelf in the country. The interplay of text and artwork is phenomenal and the message is so compelling. I have so much to say about this book but I made a promise to myself to keep the text in this post brief so I'm going to leave you with this; if you do not own a copy of this, walk, don't run to your nearest independent bookshop and buy one! 

Little Red Riding Hood, Not Quite by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley 

This book and its companion, The Three Bears Sort Of are absolutely hilarious! Both are great tools for classroom conversations around being discerning and questioning everything we read. You are guaranteed to know a student who is exactly like the child in the story. And Donovan Bixley's illustrations? Just Wow! 

Two Little Bugs by Mark and Rowan Sommerset

It was hard to choose one favourite from this awesome team as they are all so much fun. I settled on Two Little Bugs for its awesome message about optimism. We talk a lot in our classrooms about growth mindset and taking risks and this is a great book for starting that discussion. My class of Year 8s loves this book. Gorgeous die cut shapes too. 

Gladys Goes to War by Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper

This non-fiction book is the incredible story of Aucklander, Gladys Coates an amazing woman who wouldn't take no for an answer. All children will love this story but girls particularly will be inspired by her refusal to bow to societal norms and her determination not to let expectations of girls dictate her choices in life. 

Changing Times- The Story of a New Zealand Town and its Newspaper by Bob Kerr

Wow! This is an incredibly ambitious picture book and I love it! The book chronicles changes in the way news is communicated in New Zealand but Changing Times is so much more than that. It tells the story of the McPherson family, who emigrate here from Scotland in 1840, and through incredible illustrations and cuttings from the newspapers of the day, it introduces New Zealand history from 1840 to the present day. The style is almost like a graphic novel and there is just so much to look at. This would be a great tool to use as a starter for personal inquiries into events that have shaped Aotearoa into the nation it is today or even for an exploration of technological advances.  I also love Bob Kerr's After the War which has been a favourite in my classes for many years.  

Dashing Dog by Margaret Mahy

How on earth does one choose just one title from the absolute Queen of picture books? What an impossible task. So I let my daughter do it! She is an enormous Mahy fan and some of her happiest memories are around this fantastic story. Dashing Dog is Mahy at her absolute best; full of fun and imagination. I love that Margaret Mahy never dumbed-down her language for young readers'; the wordplay in this story is just fantastic. I will never forget the proud looks on her grandparents' faces when our three-year-old daughter described a wrought iron fence as "curlicued!" Thanks, Margaret! 

Taming the Sun by Gavin Bishop 

I just love all of Gavin Bishop's Māori Myths and Legends. They are accessible and entertaining and the illustrations are stunning. I also love Counting the Stars and Riding the Waves. He has also ensured a balance of well-known myths with introducing some that are lesser known. These are well-thumbed in our classroom.  

Fuzzy Doodle by Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley

I recently came across this amazing book and was absolutely thrilled; A Winter's Day in 1939 by Syzmanik is one of my favourite pieces of historical fiction and everything Donovan Bixley turns his hand to is gold. This is no different; I adore it and I strongly recommend many readings as you will see something new with each reading. It is surprisingly sophisticated with a powerful message about creativity. I can't read this book without humming Paul Kelly's "From Little Things Big Things Grow." This is a great starter for conversations around the power of yet! 

Haka by Patricia Grace and Andrew Burdan

Haka is a must-read for all New Zealand children, actually, scratch that. Haka is a must-read for all New Zealanders, regardless of their age! This picture book had my nine-year-old, rugby-mad son completely mesmerised and gave us all a new understanding and appreciation of the 'Ka Mate' haka. The illustrations are absolutely stunning, an artwork in their own right. Buy this book for your own collection. My prediction is that we'll all reach for it frequently. 

The Boring Book by Vasanti Unka

This book is so much fun! The production values are stunning with lots to explore. I am a terrible font-geek and so I loved Unka's use of typography to highlight various words. This is a fantastic book for a writing workshop on Vocabulary. Use it to start discussions around the careful consideration of word choice and I guarantee your Asttle writing Vocab grades will increase! The Boring Book is anything but boring! 

The Duck in the Gun by Jow Cowley and Robyn Belton

The Duck in the Gun is a true New Zealand classic. It was first published in 1969 and has a strong anti-war sentiment. Despite the powerful message, it is full of whimsy and hilarity and really captures the imaginations of children. I have used this as a starter in Philosophy for Children for a Circle of Inquiry about war. There are lots of ways to use this story in classrooms of all ages. So much fun! 

Old Huhu by Kyle Mewburn and Rachel Driscoll

This is a stunning book which deals with the loss of a loved one. It features absolutely stunning artwork from Rachel Driscoll and a touching message about grief and the acceptance of losing a loved one. This is a sad story with a very hope-filled ending. 

So that's twelve New Zealand picture books I absolutely adore. I could easily sit down right now and write another installment but I'll leave you to mull over this list. 

What are your favourite New Zealand picture books? Please share your recommendations in the comments! I'd love to hear your suggestions. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Growing Techno Kids- Selwyn House Takes a Risk.....

Yesterday I blogged about the way schools can share and collaborate to support one another. Today I'd like to share something we tried at Selwyn House.

I asked you to think about something your school is doing well; something other schools would enjoy hearing about. At Selwyn House, we are deeply committed to the growth of computer science and makered programmes. This is a legacy left by the incredible Jill Pears and her work is now being continued by Liz Fairhall, our awesome eLearning Director and my co-teacher.

As programmes like robotics and computational thinking become more and more widespread, we've had many schools contact us wanting to visit which is fantastic and we love visiting their schools in return. As interest levels have gotten higher and higher, our principal, Lyn Bird called us together to pose the question, "How might we share our Makered programmes to benefit other schools in Christchurch?"

We decided to gather together the awesome people who have inspired us and continue to support us on our Makered journey by holding a professional learning day for interested educators. This was a big undertaking- we'd be responsible for 7 hours of learning! How would we ensure the day was worthwhile? How would a school offering PD be perceived by others? Would it be seen as thinking we knew it all? After all, we don't by any means believe we have all the answers; we just really wanted to share what we've learned and showcase the people that have inspired us.

We were so thrilled when our our inspirations/speakers jumped on board. We eventually settled on a format which involved three keynotes spread throughout the day interspersed with four workshops; attendees selected two of these.

Our keynote speakers were:

Professor Tim Bell of University of Canterbury

Tim was really excited to be involved and started the day with an interactive keynote using resources from the incredible CS Unplugged which has had a great deal of influence over the way Computer Science is taught at our school.

Tim is deeply passionate about the teaching of computer science principles from a young age. He shared how the technology industry is thriving in post-quake Christchurch and talked about the opportunities programming skills give our learners to really follow their passions and make a difference in their world. He shared activities from CS Unplugged which is used worldwide and showed us how to use this resource to teach CS principles without even laying hands on a device.

The ever-inspiring Bridget McKendry

You may know her as @pixelbrid on Twitter. Bridget and Carl Pavletich are the founders of Fabriko and together they started the Christchurch Makercrate soon after the earthquakes, bringing making to the Christchurch community in a container! They also run the incredible Christchurch FabLab in Cathedral Junction.

Bridget epitomises a maker. She is deeply committed to creating a community of makers through open access to the necessary tools and ideas. Bridget's spirit of generosity and her "girl power" attitude has made her a real favourite of Selwyn House learners. She is adored and respected and is a fantastic mentor to our learners. We are so grateful to have Bridget's support.

Bridget talked about the role making has played in life and how important makered is for developing problem solving skills, perseverence, creativity and a sense of fun!

Michael Trengrove and Caitlin Duncan of Code Club Aotearoa

Man, what a team these guys make. Michael is such a genuinely nice guy whose heart's desire is to ensure that all New Zealand intermediate-aged kids have equity when it comes to learning coding. He has always whole heartedly supported Liz and I and the direction we wanted our Code Club to take. He didn't flinch when we insisted it was for girls' only and was fully on board when we insisted that our club be opened to all girls in the Christchurch community; not just those within our school. He has listened to our numerous irate rants about the lack of women being encouraged into Computer Science and has taken our thoughts on board. We feel very grateful to have his enthusiasm and support for what we do.

Caitlin is the cool computer chick our girls all want to be. She is passionate and inspiring and so, so knowledgeable about teaching coding in schools.

These two showed us exactly WHY it is so important that we teach our learners to code. Here's why....

There are over 600 thriving tech firms here in Christchurch and we're a small city of around 400,000 people! We can all imagine the opportunities that creates. Caitlin informed us that for each University of Canterbury Computer Science graduate there were TEN attractive jobs. Most UC comp sci students had good jobs by the end of their first year of their undergraduate degrees! It is our duty to ensure that our learners aren't excluded from these opportunities.

Michael and Bridget offered coding and 3d printing workshops while Liz Fairhall offered a robotics workshop and I offered a workshop on 5 Tools for Connecting Your Class (not exactly computer science but the theme for the day was Growing Techno Kids so it kind of worked!) I have never run any sort of teacher learning before so I was petrified. I needn't be- the attendees were so lovely and so appreciative. I loved meeting them and starting a conversation with them around connecting our classes.

Here's my google pres. As you can see, I packed far too much in for a 55 minute workshop but somehow it worked! I could have explored any ONE of these tools for the full 55 minutes but never mind.  That's the beauty of giving a link to a google pres.....participants can explore at their own pace in their own time. (Some of you may see tweets from your own classes! Thanks so much for connecting with us!)

We had more than 40 teachers join us for the day and the evaluations suggest it was a great success. There is so much passion around this topic and the teachers were fired up, ready to learn and share their experiences and this made for a really great atmosphere where we were all learning together alongside one another. Another thing that helped enormously was having our Y8 students on hand to support teachers in the workshops. Our students really are pretty phenomenal and this came up again and again in the evaluation sheets.

Creating Lego Balloon Car Racers in Liz's Robotics Workshop
Our primary goal for this day was to SHARE the Makered love. We had no desire to make any money from the day, hence the small fee of $60pp to cover the speakers' time/ donations to their causes and lunch/ morning tea. The rewards were definitely not financial but the benefits for us at Selwyn House were huge. It was so wonderful to meet so many passionate Christchurch educators. It was a great day to be part of.

Thanks to everyone who came with open-minds to learn with us. Keep in touch!

By the way, if you are interested in Makered, here's another opportunity in Christchurch. 
The Chched Maker Event- Register by Thursday 23 July- I hope to see to you there! 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

How Might We share our schools' strengths so that others might benefit?

And by we, I mean the "royal we"; I'm talking about your school, my school and schools throughout our community? How might we harness each school's strengths, their point of difference if you like, and share their collective expertise so that rather than competing against each other, we are all benefitting for the greater good, ensuring quality learning for our children?

Think about it; what makes you proud to work at your current school? What things is your school doing really well? Every school has its unique culture, the things that are really important to them, the things that give a school its special flavour. Is it a wonderful kapa haka programme, exceptional pastoral care, a Dance Academy or a highly innovative mathematics programme? What is it that makes you proud of your school? Maybe there is one area where your place is a shining light for other schools; perhaps there are a number of areas your school is focusing on? What do others in the wider community perceive to be your school's strengths? What are you known for?

 Schools are by definition places where we grow talents. Our purpose is to help our learners thrive and we work hard to help every learner on our roll be the best version of themselves. But what about our duty to other schools in our communities? Do schools have a moral obligation to support each other, sharing strengths and encouraging growth? I'm not sure of the answer to this; after all ensuring our own schools are thriving is a big ask, let alone supporting others. Having said that, I have seen many times in recent years the power sharing between schools can have.

Social Media has enabled us to share and collaborate in ways we could not have imagined 10 or 15 years ago. But what about face to face? Is a reliance on social media, subconsciously excluding members of our school communities? How can we reach these people? Is there still room for doing things "old school" and sharing face to face?

I am fortunate to be one of the Te Kahui Cluster Digital Leaders here in Christchurch, lead by the incredible Cheryl Doig and Donna Frame. This experience has been inspiring and has convinced me of the incredible power collaborating in a cluster can have. I am surprised to learn that clusters are not prevalent throughout New Zealand.

I am unsure of the "history" of clusters here in Christchurch and a google search is not shining any light on this. I suspect they were a structure put in place to provide support to schools when they were suffering post-earthquakes. Belonging to your designated cluster is optional and each cluster has its own unique make-up depending on the types of school in the area. The direction the cluster takes is determined by the members of the group depending on the needs of the schools in the area. Our Digital Leaders group is currently organising a Digital Citizenship Evening for parents in our area while another Christchurch cluster recently held an unconference which was highly successful judging by the twitter feed!

I'd love to see more visits to each others' schools. School visits are so powerful and benefit both the visitors and the hosts as we see our school through fresh eyes. Taking a whole staff to a neighbouring school during a school day is obviously a logistical nightmare but why not an after school shared afternoon tea complete with a smackdown or perhaps some eduignite talks from volunteers from both schools? After all, its highly likely that both schools are facing similar challenges.

I'm not a school leader so perhaps this entire blogpost shows my naivety around issues of schools collaborating rather than competing but it seems to me the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.  

So how does your school collaborate and share its strengths with other schools in your area?